What is the Expected Impact of High Commodity Prices on Effective Reference Prices for Covered Commodities

Commodity reference prices are used in both the price loss coverage (PLC) and agriculture risk coverage (ARC) programs to calculate program benefits.  For most commodities, reference prices have not increased since their establishment in the 2014 Farm Bill.  One of the major farm bill changes farm groups would like to see in the next farm bill is an increase in reference prices to catch up with input price inflation.  However, a feature added to the 2018 Farm Bill allows for reference prices to increase along with commodity prices.  Since most commodity prices have increased over the past few years it is interesting to see whether reference prices are likely to increase.

Section 1101 of the 2018 Farm Bill (P.L. 115-334) allows for the “effective reference price” for a commodity to replace the statutory reference price if 85% of the previous five-year Olympic average of the national marketing year average price is greater than the statutory reference price (Schnepf).  The “effective reference price” may increase to as much as 115% of the statutory reference price. 

Table 1 contains the statutory reference prices and calculated commodity “effective reference prices” for 2023 through 2028 determined using historical prices and CBO May 2022 commodity price estimates.  The statutory reference prices are blue.  If the projected “effective reference prices” are green or red that means the commodity prices have risen enough to generate a higher “effective reference price”.  If the calculated reference price is green it means the “effective reference price” is less than 115% of the statutory reference price.  If the calculated reference price is red it means the “effective reference price” is greater than 115% of the statutory reference price and would be set at 115% of the statutory reference price.

Corn, soybeans, oats, grain sorghum, mustard seed, sunflower, safflower and large and small chickpeas could see an increase in “effective reference prices” over the next six years depending upon whether CBO’s price estimates are realized.  While many commodities such as wheat have experienced significant price increases, prices have not increased enough to overcome only being able to use 85% of the Olympic average of the previous 5 years commodity prices.  If the “effective reference prices” in Table 1 are realized then the cost of increasing reference prices for all commodities should be significantly lower when cost estimates are developed during farm bill discussions. 

Table 1.  Statutory Reference Prices and Calculated “Effective Reference Prices” Based Off of Historical and CBO Estimated Prices for Covered Commodities.


Schnepf, R.  “Farm Commodity Provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill (P.L. 115-334), Congressional Research Service Report R45730, May 21, 2019.  The report can be found at: https://www.everycrsreport.com/files/20190521_R45730_24831706457d3ed90c82fa471d93b778b7d33676.pdf

Congressional Budget Office (CBO).  USDA Mandatory Farm Program Baseline, May 2022.  The report can be found at: https://www.cbo.gov/system/files?file=2022-05/51317-2022-05-usda.pdf

Author: Joe Outlaw
Professor and Extension EconomistCo-Director Agricultural & Food Policy Center at Texas A&M University

Outlaw, Joe. “What is the Expected Impact of High Commodity Prices on Effective Reference Prices for Covered Commodities.Southern Ag Today 2(50.4). December 8, 2022. Permalink